Models of Creation:
Intelligent Design and Evolution

A symposium held August 7, 2005, for the 60th annual meeting
of the American Scientific Affiliation, with seven participants,

Participants of Models of Creation Symposium (left to right):  Loren Haarsma, John Bracht, William Dembski, John Bloom (chair), Darrel Falk, Keith Miller, Michael Behe.

From the ASA Newsletter for Sep/Oct 2005:

      Three hours Sunday afternoon were devoted to a panel chaired by John Bloom of Biola U., discussing “Models of Creation: Intelligent Design and Evolution.”  Following are summaries in the order in which they were presented:

Calvin C. physicist Loren Haarsma led off, under the rubric “Is Intelligent Design Scientific?”
      He answered, “Yes and no.”  Some arguments used by ID advocates are definitely scientific, even when defining science narrowly.  Other arguments overlap into philosophy.
      He said rejecting Darwin’s warm little pond doesn’t automatically mean to reject all mechanisms that could potentially have formed the first cell.  As an object lesson he held up two plastic bags, their contents representing the parts of two different kinds of watches.  One would be an “ordinary watch,” the other a “self-assembling watch,” capable of self-assembling from simpler components.
      He said most audiences are hearing that the choice is either evolution or design.  That’s a false choice.  He suggested that some parts of ID can be evaluated apart from religious considerations, but that these considerations are almost invariably brought in.  He suggested that the statement “Good theology & hermeneutics should convince us that ID is more likely to be true than theistic evolution” could become the basis for friendly discussion.  He recommended the book Fossils and Faith (CRC Publishers) as a balanced presentation of a range of views.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary mathematician and philosopher of science William Dembski opened his segment by saying he had no disagreement with Haarsma’s science, but “The major difference is of emphasis and of betting on the ultimate outcome.”  He added that someone in another context had taken his statement of “ID is no friend of theistic evolution” and misquoted it as “ID is no friend of theistic evolutionISTS.”  He has no personal animosity toward anyone who construes the data differently.
      Answering Haarsma’s self-assembling watch analogy, Dembski said it doesn’t answer the idea of self-engineering.  How did the individual parts originate, what gave them the ability to self-assemble, and why did their individual shapes fit together and function so compatibly?  He would encourage research on the bacterial flagellum.  “If we find a naturalistic mechanism, we can change.” 
      He clarified two points that are sometimes confused.  First, ID is not against evolution as such.  The design may be pre-programmed from the beginning, or implemented hands-on through time.  A thermostat does work that intelligence has programmed it to do.  Secondly, “Detectability is where the sticky point occurs.”  A visitor to Mt. Rushmore doesn’t have to see a sculptor at work; he observes rock formations resembling four Presidents and can logically deduce design occurred before his arrival.

Kansas State U. geologist Keith Miller presented his case that common descent proposes that all living things on Earth are connected by an unbroken series of ancestor/descendent relationships to a single ancestral life form by a process of descent with modification.  All life is genetically related such that it can be pictured as a branching tree or bush.  This simple but powerful model makes predictions about the patterns of organic change that should characterize the history of life.
      He said fossils provide windows into the anatomy and ecology of long-extinct species.  These preserved remains of ancient life forms enable us, in many cases, to reconstruct the evolutionary pathways that led to our diverse living biota.  The patterns observed are just those expected by the model of common descent.  Fossils with transitional anatomical features are common within the fossil record.  Such transitional forms commonly possess a mixture of traits considered characteristic of different groups (genera, orders, classes, etc), as well as particular anatomical characters that are themselves in an intermediate state.
      Furthermore, when looking backward through time using the fossil record, we see that representatives of different higher-level taxa become more “primitive,” i.e., have fewer specialized characters, and appear more like the primitive members of other closely-related taxa.  This convergence in anatomy as we move back in time is precisely the expectation of evolutionary theory.

UCSD grad student in molecular biology John Bracht clarified that he is not involved in the political activity or lobbying regarding ID or its inclusion in schools, but merely in discussing its scientific merit.  He said the bacterial flagellum is not the only irreducibly complex organism; “most organisms are irreducibly complex.” 
      He showed a Japanese visual of the bacterium first constructing the cell membranes, ring structure, and rotor.  It is only after that has been constructed, that the flagellum builds itself from the inside out by exporting proteins.  A series of adaptor proteins is secreted, then a cap that is indispensable to making the flagellum, slotting each subunit into its proper place.  He asked “How do you build a filament that is 10 to 15 times longer than the bacterial cell, when you can’t step outside the bacterial cell?” and likened it to building a satellite dish on the top of a house without being able to go outside the house.

Point Loma Nazarene biology prof. Darrell Falk asked, “Does the existence of a Creator inform scientific research programs which focus on origins?”  He answered that scientific research programs depend upon the regularity of that which they are studying.  Christians believe that God, the Creator, set those rules in place, so in studying creation we are studying God’s rules.
      Ironically, however, so long as the laws of nature are operating with complete regularity, it’s impossible to prove scientifically that they do so because of the activity of God.  Detection of the supernatural depends upon being able to show that the natural rules are suspended, allowing the God of the supernatural to work in whatever way and for whatever reason He chooses.  For example, Peter was able to walk on water because the Law of Gravity was suspended as long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus.  Moses’ staff turned into a snake because the supernatural God wanted to make a point to the skeptical Hebrew nation.
      If scientific research depends upon the regularity of the rules by which nature operates, will it be possible to use these tools to study that which works without decipherable rules? … Would it be possible to detect the activity of a Creator about whom it is written: “How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Rom. 11:33b, 34). Falk asked, “Would the tools of regularity be able to detect the suspension of the natural, if the Holy Spirit, in creation, works with gentle ‘nudges and tugs,’ analogous to the way in which the Spirit seems to frequently move in human situations?  Do the very human tools of science have limits which prevent them from being appropriated to study the activity of a God ‘whose paths cannot be traced?’  That is the real question for Intelligent Design.” 

Richard Sternberg was not able to be present to speak as scheduled, so Michael Behe of Lehigh U. substituted.  He said some definitions of theistic evolution are equivalent to ID, others different.  Behe takes it to mean that God made the universe in such a way that it unfolded “without needing additional nips and tucks.” 
      However, laws of nature don’t do anything; they need things to act upon.  We know of no law that said Earth had to be impacted by a planetoid, without which there would be no life on our planet.  “Laws are necessary, but not sufficient to explain life.”  He used the analogy of a video camera taping a pool table on which the cue ball starts moving from a place out of camera range.  From that one roll of the cue ball, all 15 balls wind up in a corner pocket.  “We would discern that this was a trick shot,” designed and skillfully executed.  “Is God Minnesota Fats?  He needs initial conditions to make it work. … By considering natural laws and initial conditions, one can infer design.”  Although he interprets that evolutionary mechanisms have been at work, he is skeptical that natural selection can do what its advocates attribute to it.
      An audience member asked whether the intelligent agent could be natural selection.  Behe responded no, no more than gravity can be an intelligent agent.  It requires a thinking entity.

      The subject continued into Monday parallel sessions.  Eastern U.’s David Wilcox had an apt last word as the 12:15 hour approached.  Showing a PowerPoint of cartoon faces morphing through 21 stages from anger on the right to sorrow on the left, he asked the audience members to raise hands when he called the number of the face they considered neutral.
      Seeing the varying opinions, he analyzed, “All of you have the same data.  But you all don’t see it the same way, because … your life experiences have some role of where you see the anger stop and the sorrow begin.  I think that is part of the problem.  Some of the argument is simply a matter of us looking at the same data and, because we see it differently, assuming the other person isn’t listening—whereas they just don’t see the pattern that we think is there.
      “ So when we can’t prove our arguments to each other, I think that the appropriate thing… is just to remember that we’re brothers and sisters — not end up fighting each other instead of sitting down and talking.  And remember that in the end, we’ll find out who’s right.  But it will be after we have gone to talk to the Designer.”
      Very well said, David! 

DESIGN IN SCIENCE (with other overviews of Intelligent Design, and more)